Most of us aren’t bothered about buying a pedigree, we just want a good worker that can do the job. Why not get a rescue dog, asks David Tomlinson

If you are looking for a gundog, there’s an alternative to the usual purchase of a pedigree puppy. Instead of buying a puppy, get a rescue dog, because there are hundreds of gundogs out there in need of a good home.

I recently recieved the following email: “Due to the passing away of a family member we have a male springer spaniel that is looking for a home. Monty is black and white, six years old and has been trained as a working dog so is extremely well behaved. He is a very affectionate, happy dog with full inoculations/ microchip/vet history. He is great with kids and is very gentle but he does need a lot of exercise.”

Monty sounded ideal for someone looking for a working gundog as a pet and shooting companion. Replacing a much-loved dog is always difficult. For most of us the usual route is to buy a puppy, but if you haven’t had one for perhaps 12 or 13 years it’s easy to forget how active and lively they are, and how demanding. Many are highly destructive, too, while training a puppy takes many months. Even if you buy a puppy now it’s unlikely to be ready to enter the shooting field until the season after next, and even that may be too soon for a slow developer.

A rescue dog is remarkably adaptable

Over the years I’ve met a number of rehomed working dogs that have happily made the transition from working for one master to another. Dogs are remarkably adaptable animals, and have an amazing ability to adjust to a new environment. Perhaps the most successful rehomed dog I’ve met is Howard Kirby’s German longhaired pointer, Tashi (FTCh Wamilanghaar Tash), which Howard handled to win the 2014 Hunt, Point, Retrieve Championship.

Tashi wasn’t a rescue dog, but his original owner lived in London and realised that a dog with such obvious ability wasn’t best suited to being a pet. As a result Howard took him on, and enabled Tashi to fulfil his obvious  potential. Howard is a professional gundog trainer, but until Tashi he had never owned an HPR before, so both dog and handler were on a steep learning curve.

It wasn’t easy, either. Howard said that when he first sent Tashi to retrieve a partridge, he did so with speed and style. However, instead of bringing the bird back to hand, he ate it.

Rescue dog

Many springers end up in rescue centres because their owners cannot cope with them.

Despite such an inauspicious start, Tashi eventually grasped what he was being asked to do. He won his first-ever trial, an encouraging start, followed by certificates of merit at his next three trials, and finished his first competitive season by winning an all-aged stake. The following November he won the Kennel Club’s HPR Championship, the most prestigious prize in HPR trialling.

True, the chances of winning a trial, let alone a championship, with a rehomed or rescued dog may be remote, but the story of Howard and Tashi shows it can be done.

Not many of us aspire to trialling our dogs anyway, and most of us want little more than a steady and reliable companion for our shooting outings. For many of us there’s no need for a pedigree dog with papers, and it doesn’t matter too much whether it’s a cross-breed, either. Michael Horne’s dog Darcey is a cross between a springer and a Border collie, and she clearly has plenty of the springer’s natural working ability.

If you would rather adopt a pure-bred dog, you will find plenty of specialist rescue sites on the Internet, covering virtually all of our gundog breeds. They are all run by dedicated volunteers who undertake the work for no other reward than the satisfaction of finding a dog a new home. The Internet has made this much easier because, with a few clicks of the mouse, you can not only read about the dogs that need rehoming, but also see pictures of them. The Kennel Club also lists contact information for all the major rescue organisations.

Nine rules for rehoming a rescue dog

Rehoming is taken seriously. Springer Spaniel Rescue, for example, lists nine strict rules that apply to anyone who wants to rehome a spaniel. These range from previous experience or knowledge of the breed to having the financial security to pay for veterinary treatment. The rules are so sensible that if they applied to everyone taking on a springer puppy in the first place, there would be far fewer dogs in need of rehoming.

The problem, of course, is that there is no creature more appealing than a spaniel puppy, with the result that many people buy them with no thought of the boisterous dog they will grow up to be.

We all know the saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It’s not true, and I’ve met a number of mature animals that have made good gundogs, despite not having had any training as a puppy. So if you are after a new gundog, why not consider rehoming? By the way, I’m pleased to report that Monty has found a suitable shooting home.